I live in a town that, just like any other town in the second decade of the 21st century, suffers from empty shop syndrome. This is a sad consequence of the rise in internet shopping. Amazon.com has a lot to answer for.
It has become apparent recently that many opportunistic arty people are seeing this as a chance to secure cheap gallery space and widen their profile. I haven’t taken advantage of this yet myself but I am not going to rule it out for the future.
There are now websites (more than one) devoted to helping artists to finding empty shop space in which to exhibit. It is a good way for artists to start to showcase their work without too much expense and effort.
Arty people are often quite poor (art doesn’t pay unless you are very, very lucky). This way to exhibit art a bit like squatting, but with consent. Using vacant space is perfect for impoverished artists who need a lot of space but have little money. Landlords benefit from this as well, as it is a way to avoid paying business rates and other bills while their premises are empty.
JJB Sports in Wrexham recently went into administration and the shop space has been renamed Un Deg Un and has been used by many local artists. It has also hosted the local art college’s end-of-year show.
This phenomenon also brings the people on the street into a gallery when they might normally have not bothered. It is a way to bring art to the non-gallery goers. It has frequently been documented that a certain ‘type’ of person actively seeks out a gallery to view art (middle class, middle England, radio 4 types or art students). This ‘pop up’ system is way to bring art to ‘everyone’.
These spaces also create opportunities for artists to meet other artists which may lead to future collaborations.
Its a win-win situation. Towns no longer look so much like abandoned shanty towns, artists bring their work to the public for very little money, landlords benefit from their space being used rather than left vacant, and the public have something else to do besides shopping.
Next time you go to town and instead of HMV you see art, go take a look. You have nothing to lose, and you certainly won’t be spending money on DVDs you will only watch once.
Youngs, I., ‘The creative boom in empty buildings’, BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24871292 [last accessed 28 November 2013]